Introduction On-line interviews of the general population have shown excessive prevalence of health effects stipulated to be caused by inhalation of fragrances, e.g. from consumer products.
Method Four major abundant and common airborne fragrances in indoor air have been reviewed. Their impact on perceived indoor air quality, sensory irritation effects, and sensitisation in the eyes and airways has been assessed. Further, effects on breathing pattern, cardiovascular system, work performance, and the impact in the airways by ozone-initiated fragrance reactions have been reviewed.
Results Maximum reported indoor concentrations of the fragrances are close to their odour thresholds. The concentrations are orders of magnitude lower than their thresholds for sensory irritation. Risk values for long-term effects are also above reported indoor concentrations. Human exposure studies and supported by animal inhalation models do not support sensitisation of the airways at indoor levels. Effects on the breathing rate and mood are inconclusive. Some fragrances may increase the high-frequency heart rate variability, but reduction may occur by aerosol exposure during cleaning activities. Distractive effects that influence the work performance are consistently reported, but their persistence is unknown. There is insufficient information that ozone-initiated reactions with fragrances cause airway effects at indoor levels; contrary, beneficial effects in sensitised animals have been observed.
Discussion Common health effects obtained from on-line interviews are inconsistent with experimental data. In general, lung function and sensory effects are likely due to the ‘odour’ perception rather than toxic effects of the fragrances. Furthermore, sensitisation by inhalation is not supported by animal studies. The substantial discrepancy between the high prevalence of reported health effects as opposed to lack of experimental support is a continuing challenge; strategies to solve this should be developed, e.g. targeted information about volatile organic compounds and their health effects in indoor air.
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